As social media networks have become more prevalent, so have companies’ concerns about privacy. In response, Wave Systems, a public company based in Lee, Mass., has introduced a Web service called Scrambls that allows users to control who sees their messages on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. The service, designed for both enterprises and consumers, also can encrypt emails.
A plug-in that individual users install into their Web browser, Scrambls is designed to work with a wide variety of browsers, including Firefox, Chrome and Safari. The company, which has operated in the enterprise security space since 1988, plans to add more API partners and release plug-ins for various email servers.
Wave Systems’ offering joins a niche of emerging products and services designed to give end-users control of their personal data, their level of interaction with the Web and how other parties reach them. Other approaches include applications like Azigo, which help consumers manage commercial emails sent to them, and Mydex, which provides secure online storage for consumers’ personal data. Another firm, Personal.com, offers a data locker that gives customers the opportunity to connect with marketers of their choosing.
Wave Systems was an early adopter of TPM (Trusted Platform Module) security chips, which have been installed in most laptops since 2006 to allow the storage of cryptographic “keys” to protect content.
“Scrambls is a new approach in how we are addressing needs within the cloud space, as opposed to enterprise,” says Michael Sprague, Wave’s vice president of Web services. “Our notion was to make the experience as invisible as possible but also allow the individual to control the experience as much as possible.”
Currently, Scrambls is free for individuals and available to Wave’s enterprise customers as part of an existing suite of security products. Wave’s chief executive, Steven Sprague (who is Michael’s brother), recently garnered publicity by recommending Scrambls as an online “seatbelt” to parents concerned about their children’s social media posts.
Scrambls is also grabbing the attention of enterprise customers. Mark Hewitt, chairman and chief executive of MetroCore, a holding company for a variety of technology and logistics firms, says Scrambls allows him to create circles of friends in a business context without “worrying about getting another person’s key or installing certificates.”
Derek Brink of the IT research consultancy Aberdeen Group, wrote on his blog last September that he believes Wave Systems’ new service is a potential answer for a weakness in the copyright agreements provided by leading social networks. About the social networks, Brink said, “Although ‘we own the information we provide,’ we receive no promises that it can ever be deleted, and we blindly give up highly personal and potentially valuable rights to this intellectual property.” Brink adds: “Scrambls is designed to allow end-users to take full advantage of social media sites, while still retaining full control over their own content.”
Simon Tidnan, head of marketing and business development for Scrambls, explains that the service is built as an overlay on the Web, allowing it to operate seamlessly with virtually any social media platform. Once installed, an individual can choose either to put two “@” signs around whatever message he or she would like to encrypt or leave Scrambls on all the time. Tidnan says the function is designed to be non-intrusive.
Both the sender and receiver of each message need to have the Scrambls plug-in installed to share content. If a member of a user’s social network does not have Scrambls installed, they will see the message, but it will appear as scrambled text. To read it, each member must be approved by the message’s Scrambls-protected originator. Scrambls holds the security keys for each user, which “spreads the trust around a little bit,” says Steven Sprague, allowing social media participants to be less beholden to the privacy policies of the various social networks they belong to.
“We’re not jumping in and saying, ‘Trust us and don’t trust them,’” says Scrambls’ Tidnan, but rather the company is offering an additional encryption layer.
No matter how social networks evolve, Wave Systems remains confident it can find ways to protect its customers with new forms of easy-to-use encryption. Says Michael Sprague, “Wave has always been about bringing these technologies to try to simplify interactions between PCs and the Web.”
Alec Foege, a contributing editor at Data Informed, is a writer and independent research professional based in Connecticut, and author of the book The Tinkerers: The Amateurs, DIYers, and Inventors Who Make America Great. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at